Cream of the crop (Langhe, Italy – Day Four)

The Langhe region was without question the best region I have visited so far, for several reasons. The first was the same reason it was one of the most anticipated places for my trip, and I had been looking forward to it for the first six months. This is the fact that the wines produced here, in particular Barolo and Barbaresco, are some of the finest and most sought after wines in the world. On the few opportunities I had to taste them back at home, I had been blown away by them, as they are amazingly unique, but I needed to understand them better because of this. To have the chance to try so many wines that back at home would cost over $150 is fantastic. The second reason that the region was so amazing is its beauty. It’s not a region a lot of non-Italian people visit, which is a shame because of the gorgeous rolling hills, varieties of forest and agriculture, hilltop villages and hidden valleys. Even though the weather wasn’t great for most of the week, this didn’t take anything away from the scenery. The final reason is the people are some of the most wonderful I have met; humble, honest, generous, patient and funny. On my final day in the region, I had the chance to meet two modern icons in Luciano Sandrone and Roberto Voerzio, and a winemaker whose wines had a profound impact on me, in Chiara Boschis.
Me with the famous Luciano Sandrone

Few would argue that Luciano Sandrone is a man of principles. After years working in other people’s cellars, he made the bold decision to not only start his own winery, but to do it in the most uncompromising way he could. He was given the opportunity to purchase land in the fabled Cannubi zone of Barolo, and from the beginning his wines drove people to very strange behaviour. The first vintage in 1978 only produced 1500 bottles (he now produces up to 100,000 from 21 hectares of vines), but when an American importer discovered it he purchased all 1500. From here he not only grew the business acquiring more vineyards in different parts of Alba, but also began to grow his profile, particularly in important export markets like the United States and the United Kingdom. The wines he now produces are some of the most eagerly anticipated on the market, and the quality is undeniable. He only produces five wines (all red), and it is this perhaps unfashionable commitment to quality which makes them so sought after.

The history of Sandrone wines

Luciano himself introduced me to his fairly recently built winery at the foot of the Cannubi hill. Similar to my experience with Carmelo Patti in Mendoza, the fact that Luciano didn’t speak any English and I very little Italian made it challenging, but if anything I understood him even better in a telepathic kind of way. All of the 12 vineyards are treated separately, as well as all of the varieties (dolcetto, barbera and nebbiolo). After de-stemming and very gentle crushing, the must is transported to stainless steel tanks where they go through a spontaneous fermentation. To achieve control over the ferments, he ensures that all equipment is kept clean so no wild yeasts are introduced from out of the winery. Malolactic ferments are handled in tonneau barrels (except for the dolcetto), and then the wines mature for between 12 and 24 months in barrel, the wine determining how much new oak is used. Before blending and bottling is commenced, Luciano will assess each barrel and tank to ensure he is happy with them, and only the best are used, with anything not making the grade being sold as bulk wine. Depending on the style, the wine will sit in bottle for up to 20 months to allow adequate integrations, but Luciano has also begun to set aside a portion of the vintage to release some wines after an additional four years for select clients. Click here to read my notes from the tasting.

The cellars of Luciano Sandrone

Chiara Boschis is considered as one of the most important women in Barolo, traditionally a very masculine region, and as such brings a totally unique perspective to her sense of place and her wines. She is amongst such luminaries as Domenico Clerico and Luciano Sandrone in revolutionising the region in the 1980s, and her unfaltering vision to produce exceptional wines often gained her both praised but also harmless jibes from her male contemporaries that she should be out trying to find a husband. She took the reins of the eight-generation winery in 1990, and since then has attempted to find a closer connection to the land, deciding to farm in a bio-sustainable way, use very minimal and traditional winemaking methods, and allow the marriage of variety and terroir to be truly and honestly expressed in the wines. Anyone who meets her is sure to be seduced not only by her passion, kindness, flair and love of live, but also by her classic Italian beauty, as I know the Trembath & Taylor group were at Vinitaly when I met her.

Chiara in her modest yet charming cellars

Visiting Chiara in the actual town of Barolo, was one of the most personal I have had on my trip, as I was welcomed into her house for a home-cooked lunch with her wines (which I will come back to). We shared lovely discussions of our shared philosophies on wine, food and life in general, over four courses which included fresh egg pasta, roast lamb, local cheese and coffee prepared in two ways. Like myself, Chiara believes that a winemaker should have no ego about their responsibility to simply translate what nature has provided, and not impart their own influence on their wines. She also agreed that every thing that contributes to a wine both before and after bottling, has an important influence on it which cannot be ignored, particularly the human element. This does not mean that anyone has the right to intervene on a wines behalf, nor to be prescriptive to others about it. It is these philosophies that ring true when tasting her wines, and you can see she treats them as if they were her own children. In handling the wines very gently, she imparts more of her personality than perhaps even she realises, and for the first time I didn’t assess the wines as wines, but for their personality. Chiara produces very maternal wines, but all with their own interpretations. Please click here to read my tasting notes.

The way Barolo should be tasted

In the space of about 20 years, Roberto Voerzio has managed to establish such a cult following that his wines annually sell-out within a month, and he is forced to turn potential customers away. In spite of the importance of the event, he hasn’t needed to exhibit his wines as Vinitaly for almost ten years. Whilst his wines command prices in higher brackets than some in the region, when you understand the approaches to viticulture and winemaking it begins to make more sense. When he established his winery in the hilltop village of La Morra, he wanted to take an entirely new approach to the wines, particularly nebbiolo. Taking inspiration from such regions as Burgundy and the Northern Rhone Valley, the first step was to plant vines in much higher densities, in an effort to create higher competition for nutrients and water for the roots. The second step was to further stress the vines by minimising irrigation and spraying. In addition to this, a very intense canopy and crop management system was introduced, which reduced yields to 500 g per vine.

Roberto Voerzio estate

His intention was to have very tiny amounts of intensely concentrated and perfectly matured bunches of grapes with which to work with. It is his philosophy (like many in the region) that 85% of the work is in the vineyard, but I’d not seen it to this degree. With this philosophy in mind, there is very little that they do in the winery. In fact, their approach to the winemaking is not dissimilar to Luciano Sandrone; natural ferments in stainless steel tanks, parcels kept completely separate, gravity-flow racking with no filtration or fining, carefully managed oak regime. The real x-factor is the fruit, and if Luciano’s wines can be considered feminine, then Roberto’s are most definitely at the other end of the masculine scale. Roberto’s very tall son Davide showed myself and two couples (one from Majorca and the other from Melbourne) around the winery and then we had the chance to taste wines that I had sold in the shop, but never actually tasted as they are so scarce and exclusive by the time they get to Australia. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Davide Voerzio

Click here to see more photos from Day Four in the Langhe, Italy.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Cream of the crop (Langhe, Italy – Day Four)

  1. Pingback: Every wine has a story – Roberto Voerzio Cerequio Barolo 2006 | The Intrepid Wino

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